Job 3 – “Job’s Lament”

baby-boyHebrew-English Text

I. Summary

Job fervently curses the day that he was born. He wishes he could have died at childbirth, and wonders why God keeps people who suffer alive.

II. Photo

Job curses the day he was born: “Job spoke up and said: Perish the day on which I was born, And the night it was announced, ‘A male has been conceived!’ May that day be darkness; May God above have no concern for it; May light not shine on it.” (vv. 2-4)

III. Important Verses

v. 2-4: Job spoke up and said: “Perish the day on which I was born, And the night it was announced, ‘A male has been conceived!’ May that day be darkness; May God above have no concern for it; May light not shine on it.”

v. 6: May obscurity carry off that night; May it not be counted among the days of the year; May it not appear in any of its months!

vv. 20-21: Why does He give light to the sufferer And life to the bitter in spirit; To those who wait for death but it does not come, Who search for it more than for treasure?

vv. 24-26: My groaning serves as my bread; My roaring pours forth as water. For what I feared has overtaken me; What I dreaded has come upon me. I had no repose, no quiet, no rest, And trouble came.

IV. Outline

1. Introduction
2-10. Imprecation
     3. Introduction
     4-5. The day of birth
     6-9. The night of birth
     10. Rationale
11-26. Complaint
     11-19. Job wishes he could have died at birth
     20-23. Why does God grant life to those who wish to die?
     24-26. Job describes his state

V. Comment

After sitting in silence with his friends for seven days, Job breaks the silence with a depressing monologue. He curses the day of his birth (vv. 3-10), wishes he had died at birth (vv. 11-19), and then questions why people who suffer remain alive (vv. 20-26). In terms of structure, Job 3 has many of the characteristics of the Complaint/Lament genre found in the book of Psalms: there is an imprecation (vv. 2-10), and a complaint about an undesired situation (vv. 11-26). However, there are two key differences between  Job 3 and other laments/complaints: (a) Job 3 is not directed to God, and (b) Job has no desire for things to improve (his only wish is to die).

In vv. 3-5 Job begins to curse the day he was born: “Perish the day on which I was born, And the night it was announced, ‘A male has been conceived!’ May that day be darkness; May God above have no concern for it; May light not shine on it; May darkness and deep gloom reclaim it; May a pall lie over it; May what blackens the day terrify it.” The concept of cursing the day of one’s birth is also found in Jer. 20:14-18: “Accursed be the day That I was born! Let not the day be blessed When my mother bore me! Accursed be the man Who brought my father the news And said, “A boy Is born to you,” And gave him such joy! Let that man become like the cities Which the LORD overthrew without relenting! Let him hear shrieks in the morning And battle shouts at noontide — Because he did not kill me before birth So that my mother might be my grave, And her womb big [with me] for all time. Why did I ever issue from the womb, To see misery and woe, To spend all my days in shame!” The birthday also comes up in other places: Eccl. 7:1 says, “A good name is better than fragrant oil, and the day of death than the day of birth,” and Gen. 40:20 speaks of Pharaoh’s birthday celebration, “On the third day — his birthday — Pharaoh made a banquet for all his officials, and he singled out his chief cupbearer and his chief baker from among his officials.”

Job employs a light/dark metaphor in his maledictions. It is interesting that he says yehi choshekh “let there be darkness,” a sort of reversal of God’s creative words yehi ‘or “let there be light” (Gen. 1:3). In the metaphor, light represents life and darkness represents death: v. 16 says, “Or why was I not like a buried stillbirth, Like babies who never saw the light?” and v. 20 says, “Why does He give light to the sufferer And life to the bitter in spirit?” Similarly, 10:21-22 describes death as a place devoid of light: “Before I depart — never to return — For the land of deepest gloom; A land whose light is darkness, All gloom and disarray, Whose light is like darkness.”

Clines points out (p. 104) that Job 3 is unique in that it is an expression of emotion and not a theological discourse: “The restraint that makes this a poem of world stature is the exclusive concentration on feeling, without the importation of ideological questions. For a book that is so dominated by intellectual issues of theodicy, it is amazing to find here not one strictly theological sentence, not a single question about the meaning of his suffering, not a hint that it may be deserved, not the slightest nod to the doctrine of retribution. All that will come, in its time, but here we are invited to view the man Job in the violence of his grief. Unless we encounter this man with these feelings we have no right to listen in on the debates that follow; with this speech before us we cannot overintellectualize the book, but must always be reading it as the drama of a human soul.” Thus, Job 3 introduces the human Job – a man who can do nothing except damn his very existence.

VI. Works Used

(see “Commentaries” page)

Clines, Proverbs 1-20 (Word Biblical Commentary)

Murphy, Wisdom literature : Job, Proverbs, Ruth, Canticles, Ecclesiastes, and Esther (Forms of Old Testament Literature)

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